A cold and wet, nearly-frostbitten hiker showed up at the doorstep of the San Diego County Fire Authority's Pine Valley substation overnight and said if it wasn't for their help, he wouldn't have made it through the night.
Gary Ashby was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on Wednesday, the second day of his long trek up the Pacific Coast's spine, when a strong storm system began pouring rain.
He didn't find it concerning, though, and continued on.
When he reached Kitchen Creek Falls, about 12 miles south of Pine Valley, snow turned to rain and he knew it was time to rest for the day.
A few hours into the night though, pain in his feet woke him up. They were soaking wet, he recalled.
"I looked out and I saw snow everywhere and realized I was in some deep trouble," Ashby said.
About an inch of snow had fallen overnight, according to the National Weather Service.
He quickly packed up his camp and headed towards Interstate 8 -- the nearest road about two miles from his location. Once there, he waited for a car to pass and hitched a ride.
The driver took him into Pine Valley but Ashby encountered a new problem -- everything was closed, including the post office, and the Pine Valley Inn Motel was booked to capacity.
"Out of desperation, I started pounding on the windows here at the fire station and I finally woke up Matt," Ashby said. The San Diego County Fire Authority firefighter "saw me in my rather dire state."
Ashby got emotional as he recalled how, at that moment, the entire fire squad rushed in to help him.
"One minute there’s Matt out there trying to help me out, next thing I know the whole fire squad’s awake and trying to help me out," he said choking back tears. "I was so soaked that I don’t think I would have made it another hour."
Cal Fire spokesperson Issac Sanchez said the fire station was there to welcome him.
"These guys are incredible," Ashby said. "It’s like you get in any kind of trouble or you need help and they do everything they can."
Ashby is an experienced hiker, so much so that he lives out of a camper and spends most of his time on trails. Despite, he said this was "a learning experience. Kind of a dangerous one, but it was a learning experience."
He won't let it stop him, though. After a few days rest, Ashby expects to get back on the trail -- weather permitting.
Ashby's advice to other hikers? Don't do it in the wet snow.
"Rain followed by snow is a very hazardous condition because you get wet and then you get cold. So if it’s raining, that’s OK. But if it’s going to get cold after that, don’t go… or have better skills than I do, anyway," he joked.